In Six, people think she's crazy to run for no reason, but she's always loved stealing an hour, early in the morning just before the shift change. It's one hour out of the day when no one is asking for anything, not teachers, not her mom trying to wheedle money, not the girls asking for snacks or a drink of water. On good days even her internal taskmaster shuts up asking whether there'll be enough to buy real milk or just powder, whether Allie's cough means she needs to see the apothecary, whether mom and Jason will be passed out or jumpy and annoyed or just gone when she gets home.
Here in the Capitol they won't let her run outside--she tried, after the first sleepless night on her victory tour, desperate just for one damn hour to shut everything out. There's a treadmill in the victor's gym though, and even if it isn't the same it's something. And she actually slept last night, after the parade and tucking the tributes into bed and keeping an eye on Terence until he fell asleep on the couch. She's supposed to report to Remake once the kids are in training, though, so it might be the last good night for a while.
She's a little surprised to see the lights already on at 6AM and the clang of weights coming from the gym, but not surprised it's Lyme working out. Rokia's good at reading faces and isn't going to say a word to one that's as closed off and furious as Lyme's is, so she just nods, slips off her sweatshirt, and hops on the treadmill. Fifteen minutes in, her mind's still turning circles around the tributes who don't have a chance, whether Aunt Magda's stopping by her house like he promised to check on the girls, and what her schedule has in store for tomorrow night. She glances at Lyme, who's moved on to boxing with one of the dummies with that same black look and ups the speed on the treadmill.
When she sees Lyme leave she checks the clock. 7:00, the tributes will be up before long and she should be there when they come to breakfast. She still remembers Terence and Poppy taking turns dragging themselves out of bed to sit, bleary-eyed, at the table and sip coffee and toy with their eggs while she and Demarius ate till their stomachs couldn't hold any more.
Breakfast is awkward; the two kids are shy and hopeless with droopy eyes and sallow skin. The escort chatters away about nothing until they have to go to training and Rokia has to go to Remake.
Once they're done getting her ready, she finds Terence sitting on the couch. He’s watching the TV where someone is commenting on the various districts' performance in the Parade and the novelty of a 12-year-old accidental volunteer from Two. Rokia remembers Lyme's face and cringes a little. Terence looks about as sober as he ever is and she figures she should take the opportunity to get some kind of mentoring advice if she can. They've avoided each other since the Victory Tour (and as much as they could even during it). She's still not sure if she's pissed off or grateful for not telling her what would happen when they reached the Capitol.
So she's not surprised when he notices her and gives her one of his crooked half-smiles. "What a good little mentor, eating breakfast with the kiddies. You been off getting pretty?"
Right. This is why she avoids him. But she doesn't want to walk into the Games completely blind, so while she imagines punching him she smiles and asks if he can show her where the mentors work during the games. He almost laughs at that and then hauls himself off the couch. "Sure, kid, let's go take a look."
Mentor Central is like something out of a movie: a nuclear control room or the bridge of a spaceship. Monitors, headsets, phones and keyboards and all sorts of things line the walls. There's someone by the console marked "3"--Beetee and Wiress have one of the monitors pulled out and are fiddling with something behind it. They look over, a little guilty, then relax when it isn't Peacekeepers come to tell them off. She wants to ask what they're doing, help out, maybe see if she can make sense of the unfamiliar controls but Terence is looking antsy and annoyed and shepherds her back through the Victors' lounge. "Controls don't come live till the Games start" he says. "None of it's rocket science anyway, a smart kid like you'll figure it right out." It sounds like a compliment but Terence says it with a sneer. She looks around the room. She's the youngest one here. Claudius from Two was the year before her, and she's heard Twos get pretty well sheltered after their games so she isn't surprised not to see him. Johanna Mason, the 66th Victor from Seven, is sitting on the couch with her feet up, drinking with Haymitch from Twelve while half-watching some fluffy Capitol movie. She's the only one here even near Rokia's age and when she glances over Johanna's glaring at her, eyes narrowed. Most of the older mentors seem friendly with each other, but there's an undercurrent of tension that makes her fingers twitch. Maybe the others are friends but she's not sure what her place is. So she's happy enough to leave with Terence, who doesn't say anything, all the way up to the Six floor where he disappears into his room.
The kids are quiet at dinner. Terence sits with them, but he's not eating much, and Rokia's trying to choke down her dinner so the kids won't notice but she can't keep her mind off the evening's plans. She asks them what they did in training, and they mention knot tying and making snares--and for a second she sees herself crouched behind a doorway, eyes on the snare she's fashioned out of electrical wire she pulled from the walls, trying not to breathe as the One boy climbs the stairs…but she blinks hard and smiles at them, tells them they did well. Terence rolls his eyes at her when they're not looking, goes back to poking at his food.
After dinner the kids head over to watch TV and her stylist shows up with the prep team. An hour later she's stuffed into a tight black leather dress that covers almost nothing and heels she could use to take someone's eye out. Linsea tries to give her tips on walking, but none of her shoes on the Victory Tour had been this high and she figures she'll be lucky if she can avoid twisting an ankle. Or passing out, because her top is laced tight, the stylist tying it behind her. Anyone looking at her will know exactly what she's headed out to do, and she glowers until the prep team yells at her to quit. Finally they decide she's ready and she walks out to the elevator. She's focusing so hard on not falling that she doesn't notice the looks she's getting at first. There are a few victors here, sitting on the couches in the lobby. Finnick looks like he's headed out somewhere, too, and she catches Cashmere perched on the arm of Gloss's chair, sitting carefully so as not to mess up her elaborate hair. A few others look like they're just hanging out, one is giving an interview to a Capitol reporter, but all of them at some point turn to look. Rokia suppresses the urge to curl her shoulders in, wrap her arms around herself because there's no way to hide so no point in looking embarrassed, and goes to the desk, where a man with lime-green hair tells her her car is waiting.
She gets home late, goes up to her room to shower. Trying to sleep will be hopeless; she learned that after the Tour. She'll just lie there and think about things and where's the use in that? She pulls on her grubby sweats and sits on the couch, sketching designs and trying to think about propeller mechanisms for the remote-control hovercraft she's promised Allie for her birthday. She's found a TV show about new car models for the year, with faster charging times and better acceleration. Nobody she knows in 6 has their own car. Uncle Salif has a work truck she's spent more time fixing than driving, and there's a few others who do, but nobody would buy these tiny, fast cars that are streamlined like the trains and can apparently reach 100 miles an hour. She's never broken 40 in the cramped Six streets. But since it's the Capitol, the show is more about things like leather interiors and gem-tone paint colors and she can't seem to focus on either her sketches or the TV. Finally, it's 5AM and the gym will be open so she gives up and pulls on her running shoes. It's empty this early in the morning, no surprise. At quarter to six Lyme comes in. She glances at Rokia on the treadmill, raises a hand in a sort of half-wave. Rokia returns it, glad for some acknowledgement but not really interested in conversation. Lyme runs through what looks like a sword drill, though the closest thing they have here are wooden staffs. Apparently they don't want anyone picking up a real weapon unsupervised--although Rokia's pretty sure Lyme could kill someone with a wooden staff, or her bare hands if it came down to that. The drill looks interesting, the precise motion, the combination of strength and speed and precision, and Rokia watches out of the corner of her eye. When Lyme moves to weights she gets bored, her mind sliding back toward its usual list of late: the girls, the appointments, the Games, cycling through all the things she can't do a damn thing about. She punches up the speed on the treadmill until her breath rasps in her chest and her brain shuts up.
Finally she has to quit, slowing to a jog, then walking so her legs won't cramp up while she catches her breath. The mats are over near where Lyme's still lifting weights and Rokia feels a little shy around Lyme but that's stupid so she walks over and starts stretching. She's got tight muscles from more than just running and she can't seem to wring out the knots in her shoulders or the kinks in her back. She's rolling her shoulders and wincing when Lyme says "Want me to show you a better way to stretch your shoulders?" Rokia spins around. "Shit, didn't mean to spook you." Lyme's come over to the edge of the mat and is pulling off her shoes. Rokia shrugs. "Sure." She wants to ask if she can learn that sword drill, too, but that seems like too much to ask of someone she's talked to all of twice. Lyme shows her a few stretches for her arms and shoulders and back. Then glances at the clock and sighs. "I've got to go." They leave together.
She never thought the worst part of being a mentor would be boredom. But there's really not much to do with the tributes in training. There's no point in getting sponsors, Terence says both kids are already addicts--likely the girl, at least, was addicted from birth, and when she asks if they can send pills, Terrence just laughs, that mean way he has when he thinks she's being to stupid for words.
That afternoon she can't stand being in the Six apartment anymore so she grabs her sketchbook and heads for the mentor's lounge. It's just as awkward as the first time, but she finds a spot on the couch and sketches. She's trying to remember how the hovercraft steering system worked on the heavy cargo ship she'd helped repair last month. It'd been an old model, with hydraulics to shift the levitation ring instead of fly-by-wire, and it'd been pretty tricky to steer, but the mechanism was interesting. She's trying to figure out the tricky u-joints when she notices someone watching her. Wiress, the Three Victor from the 58th, she recalls. Who isn't watching her, exactly, but her sketchbook.
"Hi" Rokia says, and Wiress looks up at her, slightly guilty.
"What are you drawing?" Wiress asks.
"It's an old hovercraft steering mechanism. I'm not a very good artist though, so it's hard to get it all on paper."
Wiress looks at her, appraising, then pulls something out of her bag. "Can I sit?"
"Sure" Rokia shifts to giver her space, and Wiress pulls out her computer, punches some keys and then sets the screen flat against the table. It flickers a moment, and a 3-D wireframe projects out from it.
"Maybe this will help?" Wiress said, "It's the design software they use in 3." She pulls up a diagram, and starts manipulating sections of it with a combination of gestures and keystrokes that look horrifically complicated. "This is my current project. It's part of a job for a textile factory in Eight."
"It looks hard to use." Rokia's never seen anything quite like it--they just make the stuff in Six, they don't design it.
"No, not really, you just have to get used to the control system. And the best part is you can send the files to a fabrication shop and they'll make it for you."
Rokia has heard of these. They make a few fiddly hovercraft parts in the fab shops but the material they use isn't sturdy enough for most things. Her grandfather hates them because he says they take good work away from quality machinists.
"Can I try? Can you show me?" Uncle Salif always says it's better to know how to use your hands than fancy computers anyway, complaining that the designs the Threes send down are harder to build and maintain than they should be, just because those eggheads have never actually held a wrench before in their lives. But this looks like magic and Rokia is both curious to learn and desperate to find something to occupy her time.
Wiress smiles. "Sure."
For the next few days while the tributes are training, they sit huddled over the computer drawing out a model of the steering mechanism. There's some mutual incomprehension: Wiress tends to talk about tensile strength and shear stresses and Rokia says "Oh, you mean whether this'll snap in two when you load it?" Wiress pulls up some textbooks on the screen and demonstrates, face animated and hands moving quickly to demonstrate. Rokia wonders how this can be the same woman who spent the Victory Tour spot in three fidgeting with her silverware and not making eye contact.
She's gotten used to seeing Lyme in the gym in the mornings. They don't talk much, but Rokia watches every time Lyme moves through her sword drill and they usually leave together. There's exhaustion and anger in Lyme's face while she's in the gym that mirrors how Rokia feels, but the minute they walk out she's on duty, face held carefully blank as they head for the elevators.
By the last training day she's exhausted. She's still in the gym the minute it opens because when she tries to close her eyes all she sees is Allie, bleeding in the arena, or worse, surviving the Arena and having to do what she did last night. And it's okay, really, because she's so tired that almost the minute her feet start moving her mind shuts off, and she's in that blissfully blank headspace where all she hears is her breath and her feet. But it doesn't last long because before long her heart is pounding and she feels like she's either going to pass out or throw up or possibly both, and she has to hop off the treadmill and sit down, knees drawn up and head hanging, until the world stops spinning. When she finally looks up, Lyme is standing a few feet away, arms crossed over her chest, face carefully blank.
Shit. Of all the people who have to see her just about pass out in the gym it's Lyme. Rokia scrambles to her feet, or at least that's the idea, but the room spins a little and Lyme grabs her arm before she can fall. Rokia suppresses the urge to yank her arm away but her eyes flash up to Lyme's and she sucks in a quick breath and bites her lip. Lyme just stands there as she breathes, until she's feeling a little more stable.
"OK," Lyme says, and her voice is as unreadable as her face, "Let's go sit on the mats a minute." Rokia wants to protest but she’s not sure of her voice, so she just nods and heads over. Lyme snags a bottle from the fridge in the corner and sits down next to her. "Drink this.,” she says.
It's neon green and looks a little toxic. "What's this?" Rokia asks.
"Electrolyte drink. You look like you could use it. When's the last time you ate a proper meal? Or slept, for that matter?"
"I ate dinner last night with the kids. I slept…yesterday morning for a couple hours."
Lyme sighs. "And you were, let's say, working last night, and now you've been running I don't even know how long. That's not going to work so well, kid."
Rokia isn't quite sure what to say to that. "I'm fine. I just have a hard time sleeping when I'm here." And maybe if she's so worn out today she'll actually manage to sleep more than three hours before the nightmares wake her up. "I always run in the mornings, anyway."
"Yeah, okay, but do you usually stay up all night beforehand?"
No. Usually she wakes up from whatever nightmare she's having that particular day, or Mom comes in and wakes her up, or Kadi has to pee and wants her to come along. Usually she isn't trapped in some damn box in the fake-nice Capitol, having to eat fake-nice Capitol food and play nice to fake Capitol people. Usually she can do something useful rather than sit around and wait for two teenagers who could be her neighbors or her classmates or her friends or her Games-damned sisters in a couple years for fuck’s sake, to die. Usually she's not trying to remind herself that this year she's not going into the arena and halfway wishing she was because even if it was awful and she was terrified and starving and everything hurt and she had to kill people, at least it wasn't complicated and at least she didn't have to pretend she enjoyed it. But that's not the sort of thing you can just up and say to a practically-stranger. So she just shrugs.
But apparently she's not good at playing a sulky teenager because Lyme just scowls right back at her and says "Say it."
Rokia raises an eyebrow. "Pretty sure you don't want to hear about my shit."
"Right, because I didn't just ask you about it." And Rokia's well used to lying, to her teachers, to her Mom, to her bosses and coworkers and everyone else because she's fine, really, everything is under control and if her mom's latest boyfriend gave her a black eye well that just means she needs to figure out how to get him out of the house faster next time, and if it seems like the shit they make her do here is bothering her that just means she needs to get better at ignoring it, the way she ignores the guys on the factory floor when they whistle at her as she's climbing the scaffolding. But something about the way Lyme is looking at her makes her think Lyme's not going to buy the everything's-fine act, especially not when she just about passed out on a fucking treadmill at 6AM.
"It’s okay, really. I just…I'm not used to all this. I'll figure it out."
And yeah, she was right about Lyme because Lyme's scowl stays put and she says "Uh huh. I'm sure you will figure it out, one way or another, because you're a smart kid and you made it this far. But you don't actually have to figure it out all on your own."
"Oh, okay," and she should just shut up now, but she's always had to figure things out on her own, and there's no way this is going to be any different. "So what's your advice on coaching a couple of kids who are never going to make it past the first day and then--" And she snaps her mouth closed. "Nevermind."
Lyme's eyes narrow and she studies Rokia. Rokia glares back at her, because this is the part where Lyme realizes what she's getting herself into and walks away, just like everyone else.
Except she doesn't. She says, "Well, I'd start with regular food and sleep. And something a little more interesting than running yourself into the ground every damn day."
"I don't know how to do anything else. It's not like we have trainers in Six."
Lyme grins, her eyes flashing. "We're not in Six now, are we? Finish that and c'mon."
Rokia downs the radioactive-green whatever-it-is, and it's sweet and disgusting and it's all she can do not to make a face. But she can stand up now without feeling like she's going to pass out, so that's something. Lyme tosses her one of the wooden staffs and shows her a series of carefully precise movements that feel almost like dancing, moving faster and faster until Rokia's breathing hard and Lyme is right, this is better than mindless running, this forces her mind to shrink down until it's nothing but her hands and feet and breath. And she wants to keep going forever but she's still exhausted and a little dizzy and when she starts stumbling and making mistakes Lyme tells her to stop.
"OK, kiddo, that's enough for today. I need to go upstairs and you probably do too." Lyme almost manages to hide her scowl behind that blank mask she has, and Rokia looks at the clock and sighs, and yeah, it's time. But she's feeling okay, almost, like maybe she can get her tributes to training and actually sleep, so she follows Lyme to the elevator.